Zion v. Babylon: Life in the Enclave

By December 21, 2007

This is cross-posted at Times and Seasons.

 In his recent (and excellent) book, Making Space on the Western Frontier: Mormons, Miners, and Southern Paiutes, Paul Reeve examines the contact and interactions between the three groups mentioned in his title in southern Utah/eastern Nevada during the last four decades of the 19th century. Although Reeve uses the word “frontier” in his title, he is not using it in the same way as Frederick Jackson Turner, who saw the frontier as succeeding waves of Anglo-American civilization moving relentlessly across the continent. Rather, Reeve sees the frontier as a meeting ground of cultures, where groups come together and negotiate an existence together. In Reeve’s story, these three groups bring together three conflicting images or visions of how space and land should be used, with the different “mappings” of the terrain influencing the contacts between the groups.

J. Stapley has written an admirable review of the whole work at BCC, so I won’t bother rehashing what he wrote, but I would like to focus on Reeve’s chapter 5: “To Hold In Check Outside Influences.” The chapter examines how Mormons in the town of Hebron interacted and perceived the miners in the Nevada town of Pioche as well as Mormon images and contacts with the Southern Paiutes. Reeve has already covered some of the second half of the chapter in his earlier post on the Gadianton Robbers, so I’ll focus here on Mormon perceptions and interactions with the miners. For Latter-day Saints, the mining town represented Babylon, with allures of wealth, lust, and worldliness, the exact opposite of what Brigham Young and other Mormon leaders envisioned for Zion. In Reeve’s apt phrase, “Brigham Young defined his kingdom largely in relationship to gentiles” (86). Constructing images of the wicked was essential to maintain the boundaries of God’s kingdom. “Defending Zion’s borders, therefore, held celestial implications. Once gentiles controlled the southern region’s mineral deposits, [Erastus] Snow and Young began establishing defensive walls around the Mormon outposts closest to the mines” (92). Not only did Church leaders preach about the dangers of the mines, but they also practiced what Reeve calls “the politics of exclusion,” where dissenting insiders were disciplined for flirting too readily with Babylon (92). Perhaps the most prominent examples of the politics of exclusion were the Godbeites, who sought to open up Utah territory economically by investing in mines and other ventures and were subsequently excommunicated from the Church. Utilizing such techniques allowed Young and the Latter-day Saints to contest and challenge efforts by outsiders to Americanize Utah territory.

Although Reeve does not call it such, this is a perfect example of what scholars of religion refer to as “the enclave.” Scholar of religion Emmanuel Sivan has employed the metaphor of an enclave to describe religious groups that seek to ward off the outside world. The enclave is composed of individuals that voluntarily associate with one another and follow religious leaders. With the world outside always beckoning the individuals to leave the enclave, these leaders must reinforce boundaries between the enclave and the world.[1]

Although Young’s dream of Zion is no longer, Mormon leaders continue to guard the borders of the enclave from outside influences that are deemed destructive to the faithful. Pornography, abortion, and engaging in same-sex relations are a few examples of dangers that our Church leaders have warned us against, and in the process they have defended Zion’s borders. Those Mormons that seek to step outside of those borders to visit Babylon can expect to experience, to some degree, the politics of exclusion. And such is life in the enclave.


[1]Gabriel A. Almond, R. Scott Appleby, and Emmanuel Sivan, Strong Religion: The Rise of Fundamentalisms around the World (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003), 21, 32-36.

Article filed under Book and Journal Reviews Categories of Periodization: Territorial Period


  1. This reminds me of my blog post from today regarding Utah being “Saint-making country,” according to Brigham Young. The motif of the wandering pilgrims starts with Adam and Eve, and we see it throughout Nephite scripture, and in the restored Church as well.

    Comment by BHodges — December 21, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

  2. *Saint-raising country, rather.

    Comment by BHodges — December 21, 2007 @ 12:10 pm

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